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Oregon vs. the NCAA, in which the future will bear the crimes of the past

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The NCAA's Oregon decision, whenever it arrives, will punish exactly as many responsible people as its other recent major judgments.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In some of the world's worst countries, the descendants of those convicted of crimes must suffer as well.

From John Canzano on the one-week-shy-of-two-years-old NCAA investigation into Chip Kelly's allegedly forbidden association with scout Willie Lyles and the neverending, needless strain it's placed on the rest of the Ducks:

Through it all, I've gone from believing the Ducks were going to get slapped on the wrist, to believing they're going to get slugged in the gut, to wondering if any punishment at all should matter given the mostly innocent parties left to deal with it.

Remember former Ducks assistant director of football operations, Josh Gibson? He was implicated as the main contact for Lyles while at Oregon. He's since been hired by Kelly in Philadelphia as a scout. Unless the NCAA is going to call NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and somehow slap the Eagles with a postseason ban, what exactly is being pursued here anymore?

Coaches Frank Haith, Clint Hurtt, Aubrey Hill, Jeff Stoutland, Sean Allen and the dozens of players who allegedly interacted in inappropriate fashions with booster Nevin Shapiro no longer have anything to do with Miami, whether any of those individuals actually did anything wrong during their times as Canes or not.

Which guilty person at Miami is the NCAA about to punish? Tell me his or her name.

Jerry Sandusky will die a prisoner, former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz could join him behind bars, president Graham Spanier lost his job, and Joe Paterno is dead, whether Paterno actually impeded justice or not.

Which guilty person at Penn State did the NCAA punish? Tell me his or her name.

The NCAA operates according to a principle of excessively institutional thinking. Individuals broke the NCAA's rules*, not entire universities. The human body's cells replace themselves, and parts of athletic departments replace themselves. But it's true that a city bombed into its own sewers no longer has to deal with that guy named Chad who has a parking ticket problem.

To impose penalties on future Oregon players and coaches for the actions of former Oregon coaches would be wrong, and it feels insane to even have to clarify that, like taking pains to make sure we all agree mountains are big. Bar Lyles from campuses and penalize the former Ducks coaches if need be. But a justice system that punishes the innocent as a tactic, not as a collateral byproduct of punishing the actual offenders, is the opposite of a justice system.

At absolute best, Mark Emmert's NCAA proves itself by flailing at the ghosts of men responsible for breaking non-laws. What a legacy.

* Also, to shoot down the common rebuttal example: Enron wasn't shut down by the government, or whatever. Enron went bankrupt after defending itself in court. And the precedent-ignoring, subpeona-lacking, freewheeling, profiteering NCAA should probably never be compared to any government anyway, except for those in some of the world's worst countries.

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